Recognizing the limitations associated with most existing low greenhouse gas emissions energy technologies, particularly in delivering the necessary economy and scale, we are conducting fundamental research to develop low greenhouse gas emission energy solutions that have the potential to be economically feasible without subsidies, standards or mandates. ExxonMobil is pioneering scientific research to discover innovative approaches to enhance existing and develop next-generation energy sources.
ExxonMobil’s Emerging Technologies program brings together executives, scientists and engineers from across ExxonMobil’s businesses to identify and evaluate technology research opportunities with a long-term strategic focus. The Emerging Technologies team seeks to understand a wide range of technology options and how they may impact the global energy system in the near term and as far as 50 years into the future. Our evaluation extends well beyond our base business and near-term focus. If a technology could have a material effect on the future of energy, we insist on knowing about it and understanding the related science. Understanding the fundamental science serves as a basis for our broader research efforts and may lead to further technology development aimed at practical application, such as our work on biofuels. Additionally, this awareness informs our internal analysis of the global energy landscape as reflected and encapsulated in our annual Outlook for Energy.
At the center of our research is ExxonMobil’s Corporate Strategic Research laboratory, a fundamental research institution with approximately 150 Ph.D. scientists and engineers focused on addressing the company’s long-range science needs. The laboratory’s scientists are internationally recognized experts in their field. Our research portfolio includes a broad array of programs, including biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration, alternative energy and climate science.
Vice president, research and development
“ExxonMobil is a leader in its commitment to fundamental science and has a constancy of purpose when looking at emerging energy technologies. As part of our commitment, we continue to widen our research aperture through collaborations with academics and other third parties to better enable us to identify potential breakthroughs in lower-emission technologies.”
In addition to in-house research, the corporate strategic research laboratory conducts strategic research with leading universities around the world. For example, in 2014, ExxonMobil signed an agreement to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, a collaboration aimed at working to advance and explore the future of energy. ExxonMobil was also a founding member of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University, which seeks to develop fundamental, game-changing scientific breakthroughs that could lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions and a less carbon-intensive global energy system. Other university collaborations cover a wide range of scientific topics, from understanding the impacts of black carbon and aerosols at the University of California, Riverside to the fundamentals of biomass pyrolysis used to make biofuels at Iowa State University.
ExxonMobil funds a broad portfolio of biofuels research programs including ongoing efforts to develop algae-based biofuels, as well as programs for converting non-food based feedstocks, such as whole cellulosic biomass, algae-based feedstocks and cellulose-derived sugars, into advanced biofuels. We believe that additional fundamental technology improvements and scientific breakthroughs are still necessary in both biomass optimization and the processing of biomass into fuels. Specifically, scientific breakthroughs are needed to ensure that advanced biofuels can be scaled up economically and produced with the desired environmental benefit of lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.
Our advanced biofuels research includes joint research collaborations with Synthetic Genomics Inc., Renewable Energy Group, the Colorado School of Mines, Michigan State University, Iowa State University, Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin.
Up Close: Advanced biofuels partnership with Michigan State University
ExxonMobil is a leader in funding and conducting research on advanced biofuels. In 2015, ExxonMobil and Michigan State University (MSU) launched a partnership to advance biofuel research by developing the basic science required to progress algae-based fuels and bio-products.
Research has shown that algae photosynthesis can be highly efficient under optimal conditions in the laboratory but that this efficiency drops under realistic growth conditions. The partnership seeks to understand why some strains of algae are more efficient than others by using advanced technologies to study the photosynthetic processes of many cultures under different conditions.
The objective is to eventually process algae bio-oils in ExxonMobil refineries to supplement crude oil as the raw material to manufacture gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels and marine fuels. We are also researching potential applications for chemicals and lubricants.
Algae biofuel research and development is a long-term endeavor that could take decades to commercialize at scale. In this partnership, we are working to build on our significant progress since beginning this work in 2009.
Carbon capture and sequestration
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the process by which CO2 gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere is captured, compressed and injected into underground geologic formations for permanent storage. With a working interest in approximately one-third of the world’s total CCS capacity, ExxonMobil is a leader in one of the most important next-generation low-carbon technologies. In 2015, we captured 6.9 million metric tons of CO2 for sequestration.
ExxonMobil believes the greatest opportunity for future large-scale deployment of CCS will be in the natural gas-fired power generation sector. While CCS technology can be applied to coal-fired power generation, the cost to capture CO2 is about twice that of natural gas power generation. In addition, because coal-fired power generation creates about twice as much CO2 per unit of electricity generated, the geological storage space required to sequester the CO2 produced from coal-fired generation is about twice that associated with gas-fired generation.
ExxonMobil is conducting proprietary, fundamental research to develop breakthrough carbon capture technologies that have the potential to be economically feasible without government subsidies, standards or mandates.
Environmental life cycle assessments
Every product has the potential to impact the environment. These impacts can be associated with use of the product itself, the manufacturing process or the acquisition of raw materials used to make the product. As a result, a holistic estimate of a product’s environmental impact should reflect its entire life cycle.
To help direct our research efforts, we use in-house experts and tools to conduct environmental life cycle assessments of emerging products and activities. In doing so, we are able to assess which technologies have the potential to deliver the game-changing results that will be needed to transition the energy system to lower-emissions solutions.
ExxonMobil researchers also collaborate with researchers at national laboratories and universities around the globe to advance the science of life cycle assessments. In recent years, we have developed new approaches for quantifying environmental impacts associated with energy systems, and published our findings in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Peer-review and collaboration with external scientists enhance dialogue with the academic research community and bring external expertise and perspective to ExxonMobil life cycle assessments, supporting sound science both within the company and in the greater scientific community.